The GI diet made easy

Check out our no-nonsense guide to the GI diet and discover healthy food choices for you and your family, plus 14 low-GI recipes to get you started.

By Vanessa Hurley
Recipes by Emily Richards and The Canadian Living Test Kitchen

What is the glycemic index (GI)?

By now you've probably read or heard something about the glycemic index (GI). For example, how using the index to make food choices may help prevent and manage certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Many health organizations, including the Canadian Diabetes Association and the World Health Organization, support the use of the GI for individuals with diabetes.

But the GI is becoming an increasingly hot nutritional concept for people who don't already suffer from a chronic disease. Many prominent nutrition researchers and dietitians see it as a promising approach to healthy eating and the prevention and treatment of some chronic diseases.

The GI is a valid and potentially useful concept, but it is also complex and can be difficult to follow. Because the science around the GI is still quite young, there are some unanswered questions. As the science evolves, and researchers learn more about the GI and its role in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, these questions will be answered. Until then, here is a no-nonsense, nuts-and-bolts approach to incorporating GI principles into your family's diet.

What is the glycemic index?
Developed in the early 1980s by Dr. David Jenkins, a professor of nutritional sciences and medicine at the University of Toronto and a doctor at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, the glycemic index ranks carbohydrate-containing foods according to how they affect blood glucose, or sugar, levels.

The index measures how much your blood sugar rises after you eat a specific food; the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response. Pure glucose is used as a reference food (it raises blood sugar the quickest) and is assigned the arbitrary value of 100. All other foods are then given a number relative to it.

How does the GI work?
The GI value of a food is determined by the speed at which your body breaks it down and converts it into glucose, or sugar, which is your body's main source of energy. High-GI foods are broken down quickly, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar, whereas low-GI foods take longer to break down, causing a slow, steady rise in blood sugar.

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